Editor’s note: The below article contains spoilers for Episode 6 of Obi-Wan Kenobi.Some of the greatest elements of the original Star Wars trilogy were the excellently-executed duel sequences between a Jedi and a Sith. The flashing lightsabers and Force powers became such a staple of the Star Wars brand that almost every subsequent Star Wars film has used one of those Force duels as its climactic centerpiece. Somewhere along the way, though, those duels began to lose their substance. Perhaps it was simply due to overuse, but ironically enough, when the prequel films began to be released, despite the fact that the duels were fancier and flashier than ever, none of them ever captured the power of the same duel sequences from the original trilogy. . The faceoffs with Count Dooku and General Grievous somehow never held a candle to Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, despite visual effects technology being decades more advanced. Thankfully, the recent Obi-Wan Kenobi series, in contrast, brings the Star Wars universe a welcome return to form.
Admittedly, part of the problem of the prequel trilogy is precisely the visual effects themselves. The prequel films have often been criticized for their over-reliance and over-saturation with CG effects that have aged extremely poorly in the years since. The distracting unnatural-looking rubbery-textured appearance of certain characters and locations can easily take an audience out of an otherwise good scene. But the problematic visual effects are really only one symptom of the overall problem of most of the duels in the prequels. After all, a number of those duels are extremely well-choreographed and are meant to display the full range of abilities of a Jedi and Sith at the height of their powers: the final clash between Anakin and Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith is an excellent example of this. But it is precisely this focus that ultimately makes the flashier duels of the prequels not as effective as those of the originals: their most persistent problem is that they focus on style over substance.
None of the original trilogy’s duels has the flashy pyrotechnics of General Grievous, the fancy footwork of Anakin vs Obi-Wan, or the bouncing green blur that is Yoda. The jumps and flips are at an absolute minimum; what made the originals so powerful, though, was that the duels were used as an appropriate climax to tell the story of the emotional journey of the characters involved, and the duel itself played out as a sort of story. When Luke faces off against Vader in Empire Strikes Back, the duel is effective because of the way in which we see the emotional motivations of each of the characters playing out: a hotheaded Luke gradually realizing how far out of his depth he is, balanced against a Vader who is playing with Luke’s mind far more than he is actually fighting him. The duel, of course, also ends with one of the most effective emotional punches of all time, as well. In Return of the Jedi, the final showdown between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor is also used to play out the film’s emotional climax, as Luke is coaxed towards fury and the dark side by the goading of the Emperor and Vader, using his devotion to his friends against him. . The ending of that duel, with Luke beating down his father and coming back to his senses, encapsulates the emotional journey of Luke in the movie and the trilogy as a whole, and the duel plays out in the context of that story.
Thankfully, though, where the prequels lost the thread of those Force duels, the final duel of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series finally recaptures some of the magic that made those original duels so powerful in the first place and does so in a way that honors both the original and prequel trilogies. In the final showdown between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, there are no fancy backdrops, but a dark and dusky desert landscape; flips and spins are extremely restrained, and all in all, the action is much more restrained and visceral than anything the prequels offered, and much more in the nature of a duel from the originals.
But at the same time, while the relative restraint is admirable, what makes the duel most effective is that, just like the best of the Star Wars duels, it is used as a way to tell a story and explore the emotional journey of both characters. . The emotional pain of Anakin / Vader is apparent as he faces his former master, who both trained him and destroyed him. This emotion flares out in Vader’s physical presence in the fight, as he strays back and forth between the sinisterly self-controlled Vader of the original trilogy and the emotionally-compromised Anakin of the prequels. When he buries Obi-Wan under a mountain of rock in the middle of the duel, it is easy to see the symbolic action of burying the past, killing his former father figure, and leaving it all behind.
From the perspective of Obi-Wan, there is also a clear emotional journey that plays out in the duel. Throughout the entire series, he has been trying to deal both with his responsibility to Luke and Leia, and his guilt for what happened to the last child he took responsibility for. It also comes to a head in the duel, as his guilt crushes him as Vader piles up rock on top of him, but he finds his strength to escape in the hope that he has for the future of Luke and Leia. It is only at that point that he ultimately turns the tables on Vader. He comes back to full strength, and the increasing use of Force powers throughout the duel is both an appropriate nod to the duels of the prequels and a testament to the growth of Obi-Wan himself as a character in the story.
He is also clearly struggling throughout the fight between the desire to kill Anakin and the desire to try to redeem him, which comes to its climax in the final statement of Vader: “You did not kill Anakin Skywalker. I did. ” It is emotionally crushing, and the fitting conclusion to the story arcs that played out throughout the prequels and the Obi-Wan series. And, for the first time in a while, a Star Wars duel was able to tell that story through the actions of the fight itself, which is exactly what made them so good in the first place.